Chris parks the in front of the building, right by the door, rather than in the empty parking lot. “I’ll go lock up,” he says, putting the car in idle and turning on the parking lights. “What unit number is it and do I need a key?”
“One-twelve and it’s a combination lock I left hanging open on the door,” I reply, my gaze having settled on the storage facility. We appear to be the only ones here and the building is still dark. Chris starts to exit and I grab his arm. “The door is open, Chris.”
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“Isn’t that the idea? Getting here in time to lock the unit?”
“Yes,” I say, glancing at the clock on his dash. “But it’s thirty minutes after closing. It shouldn’t be open.” I glance at the door again, and to the black hole beyond it. I remember how suffocating it had been inside, and I shiver, hugging myself with the certainty that someone had been in there with me.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Chris prods, gently tilting my chin to search my face. “What are you thinking and not saying?”
My mind replays the moment I had burst from the door to freedom and my heart is once again in my throat. “The door was open when I went inside, and when I ran out of the building it was shut. Someone intentionally shut me inside.” I cut him a look. “And please don’t lecture me. I already know I was stupid to come here alone at night. Believe me, I know, Chris. I paid the price a hundred times over in fear inside that building.”
His eyes soften instantly and he strokes a hand down my hair.
“I know you did, baby. And you can bet I’m going to have a talk with the office about security. They’re liable for the security of everyone on the property.”
“The guy who works here is creepy, Chris. I don’t have high hopes for this place providing security.”
His brow furrows. “Sara, damn it, you say that, yet you tell me you came here late at night alone.”
I grimace. “You’re cursing again.”
“You keep giving me reasons to wonder what you were thinking tonight.”
“The lady who works the morning shift at McDonald’s by my school is cranky but I still went there for my coffee.”
“Deflection will get you nowhere with me, Sara, besides a little extra of my certain wrath in store for you when we get home.”
Home. The word hums through me because I know that with Chris nothing is unintentional. My heart races with the intimacy implied and how … right it feels.
“Wrath?” I ask. “What exactly does that mean?”
He tilts his head slightly, and his voice turns dangerously tight. “Use your imagination. Or maybe we should use mine. Unless that scares you now.”
He’s testing me again, reminding me of the club the night before, making sure I don’t forget the woman I watched being bound and flogged. Of his confession that he has given and received pain. I lift my chin defiantly. “I’m not scared. Not of you.
Not … with you.”
He narrows his stare on me and I know he is weighing my claim. “You’ve said that before.”
“And nothing has changed.”
“It has actually. I now know the deep, dark secrets you said would make me run and here I am.”
“You did run, and baby, you only think you know my deep, dark secrets.”
“Show me.” I sound breathless.
“Show you.” It’s not a question. His gaze slips to my mouth and I am instantly aware of how deliciously brutal it can be as he adds, “There’s a price for not taking care of yourself as you claim you do so well.” His eyes lift to mine and there is mischief in their depths. “I’ll have to punish you.”
I glower at his reference to how well I take care of myself.
“Don’t be a smart-ass. I can take care of myself.”
“So you say.” His lips quirk, his eyes twinkle, and his dark mood has lightened in a flash as it often does. “I’m just looking out for us both. I need you alive and well if I’m going to fuck you until you can’t forget my name.”
I feel myself heat from the inside out and I seize the opportunity to say what I had not earlier. “You’ve already done that, but if you want to be an overachiever, feel free.”
“Your wish is my command,” he assures me.
“I somehow doubt that.”
“Don’t doubt, baby,” he says, and the laughter between us fades as we stare at each other with the promise of dark, erotic pleasure between us and so much more.
My chest tightens and I touch his cheek. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
He traces my bottom lip and kisses me, a quick slide of his tongue that has me moaning with the taste of his hunger, with my own. “Let me go lock up so we can get the hell out of here.”
I grab his hand as he tries to move. “You can’t see in there to lock up.”
“I have a flashlight in the trunk.”
“What if whoever was in there with me is still inside?”
“If they make a wrong move, I’ll hit them with the flashlight.”
He wiggles a brow. “I’m efficient like that, especially when I have better things to do.” He grins. “Like you.” He’s out of the car before I can stop him and I can’t stand the idea of him going inside that black hole. I get out, too, and meet him at the trunk.
“Save your commands for another more enticing time, Chris. I’m not staying in the car. Haven’t you watched Friday the th? Michael slashes the girl in the car.”
“Michael is from Halloween. Jason is Friday the th.”
“Whoever he is, he slashes the girl in the car. I’m not staying in the car.”
He slams the trunk shut, and he’s now holding a long, silver flashlight. “And you think going inside the dark storage room with a guy and a flashlight is the safer bet?”
“I’m staying with you, Chris.”
Lights flicker behind us and we both turn as a utility truck pulls into the drive. “Looks like the repairman has arrived.”
The truck pulls in beside us and the sound of steps on gravel draws my gaze to a man in an orange maintenance uniform walking from the office building down from this one. “The guy you don’t like?” Chris asks.
I shake my head. “No. That’s not him.” This man is a good twenty years older, and though he looks grumpy, he doesn’t ooze creepiness. I glance at Chris. “I guess I should have gone to the office in the first place.” I begin to doubt myself. Have I created this danger in my mind? Did I make this more than it had to be?
Chris pulls me around to face him, and I slide my arms under his jacket. He is warm and the wind is cold. “Don’t do what you’re doing,” he orders.
“What am I doing?”
“If you felt that you were in danger, if you ever feel that you’re in danger, don’t ignore that feeling.”
“And if it is a random power outage?”
“How do you define random?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s not a city-wide thing like I thought it might be. I just … I don’t know what I think.”
“We’ll figure it out together.” His fingers brand my hips, and the possessive way they splay there makes me believe him.
“Can I help you folks?”
We turn to find the maintenance man behind us and I’m amazed at how fast he’s arrived, or maybe time just goes by quickly when Chris is holding me. I suspect that is the case when Chris releases me, and I wish he hadn’t.
Chris indicates his flashlight with a lift of his hand. “The power went out before we could lock up. We just want to get it sealed up and then we’re on our way.”
The man scrubs his jaw. “I wasn’t aware we had anyone inside when the power blew. I went inside and checked for anyone who needed help.”
“I was inside,” I say. “And it wasn’t fun. Someone shut the outer door and I couldn’t seem to get out.”
The man frowns. “The door’s open, ma’am. It was open when I went inside.”
“Because I opened it,” I say, pointing out the obvious, and I can’t keep the defensiveness out of my voice.
“You have cameras in this place?” Chris asks.
“We do,” he said. “But no power means no camera.”
“Surely the remote security has its own feed,” Chris argues.
“We aren’t sophisticated here, mister. It’s all us.”
Chris’s brows furrow. “Then maybe you should get more sophisticated. She could have been hurt.”
“We’ve never had anyone hurt on site,” the man argues.
Chris looks like he’s going to argue but then clamps his lips together. “We just want to lock up our unit and be out of your way.”
“What’s the number?” the man asks.
“One-twelve,” I tell him.
He scrubs his jaw. “Oh right. I was the one you talked to on the phone. I see that unit is on my pending auction list again. It’s past due.”
“But the office manager gave me a one-week extension.”
“Almost two weeks ago,” he said. “And that was me.”
“We’ll pay for another month,” Chris says, and I cringe.
I turn to face him and he pretends not to notice the objection in my face when I know he does. He focuses on the maintenance man. “Let us lock up and we’ll come to the office and pay.”
“That’ll be fine,” the man agrees.
Chris takes my hand. “Don’t argue.”
“I don’t want you to pay my bills,” I say softly as we walk toward the building.
“I don’t need you to take care of me, Chris.”
He glances down at me. “Questionable after tonight.”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, because I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to keep feeling the sting of my decision over and over again. That would be downright not nice of you.”
“I want you safe.”
“I am. I’m safe. And I have a check from the gallery coming soon to pay the rent here. I planned to beg for more time and pay them then.”
“Now you don’t have to,” he said. “And what are you going to do about your job at the school?”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“You aren’t answering the question.”
“I have time to decide.” I don’t know how in tune he is with the school system and the new mayor’s budget cuts since he’s in Paris half the year. “This is the second year that the public high schools have shorter years and longer days. I don’t start back until October first.”
We stop at the door of the building and Chris turns on the flashlight. “You know you aren’t going back. You should tell them now so they can replace you.”
“I can’t talk about this now,” I say as we stop at the doorway of the building, and the darkness starts to creep me out. I move closer to Chris and wrap my arm around his. “I just want to get in and out of here.”
Chris flips on the flashlight. We take several steps forward and I hear that noise that had freaked me out in the dark alone.
Pop. Pop. I stop dead in my tracks. “What is that?”
Chris slowly moves the flashlight around in the darkness and there is a crackling sound and another pop. He settles the glow on the wall by the floor and leads me forward. He squats next to a light socket and I follow him down into the beam of the light to stare at the outlet. There is a paper clip shoved inside the hole of one plug.
My chest tightens. “I guess we now know how to define random.” I meet his stare. “I need to make sure nothing obvious is missing in the unit.”
Chris pushes to his feet and takes me with him and we find the unit door shut. “I suspect the guy we just talked to shut it.”
Right. Of course. That makes sense. “I still want to look inside.”
He pulls open the door and shines the light around the room, focusing on the papers on the floor. “I dropped those,” I tell him, reliving my panic.
“Do you need whatever they are?”
“No,” I say, just wanting out of here. “Not now.”
“Then everything else looks in order?”
“Yes. It doesn’t seem like whoever was here touched anything inside.” Unless they knew exactly what they wanted and where it was, a voice in my head says. Perhaps more journals? There are many pieces of Rebecca’s life, including how she arrived and left the gallery, that are missing from what I’ve read. I don’t know why this hasn’t hit me until now. Rebecca was too consistent with her writing to skip long periods of time. If I’m right, there has to be at least a few more journals, and it would make sense for them to be in the unit. Or they were, until tonight.
Thirty minutes later, I am leaning against the wall of the small, boxlike office of the storage unit, remotely aware that Chris is in deep conversation with the manager. My Dark Prince can pretty much do or say whatever he wants right now if it gets me out of this place sooner. I manage to stay present in the conversation long enough to hear Chris secure a month of free rental, but then that’s not surprising since Chris all but flattens the office manager with a promise of a lawsuit over the danger I’d been put in.
Danger. That word has me checking out and into my own head. I tell myself Chris is excessively protective, and while it feels good to have someone care, he’s also blowing up the fear in my mind that I’m quite capable of exaggerating without his aid.
My thoughts go on a roller-coaster ride of wicked possibilities that has me in knots. If I was in danger in that storage unit, am I in danger now? What have I gotten myself into? And what did
Rebecca get herself into? I cannot help but relive the events in the darkness, replaying alternate endings, and none of them are happy. How does everyone just say she’s off with some hot man and not miss her?
My gut twists and my mind goes to Ella. I’ve dismissed her silence as a happy honeymoon and a friend who’s forgotten me in the midst of passion and newfound love. This isn’t so hard for me to believe of Ella. She’s alone and hungry for the sense of belonging this man has given her. But isn’t that hunger a vulnerability the wrong man could take advantage of?
Suddenly, I need to hear Ella’s voice, and if she’s forgotten me for wedded bliss, I will happily scold her. I just need to know she’s okay. I’m the only one Ella has to miss her. Ella knowing I am there for her, that if she ever isn’t okay someone will care, is important to me.
I shove off of the wall and grab my phone from my jacket and head outside, but I am quick to plant myself against the glass by the door where Chris can see me and I can see him. Stupid once tonight, not twice. The night air is not my friend, but I ignore the chill.
Punching in Ella’s number, I pray for an answer and get a fast busy signal. I shove the phone to my forehead. Why didn’t I get an alternate number? Why? I have no idea what to do. I don’t even know the exact day she is due back into town, and I decide calling her new husband’s medical practice tomorrow is my best option.
The door opens and Chris appears. I do not know how it’s possible, but each time I see him it is as if it’s the first time, as if he slides inside me and fills what is empty.
He leans a hand on the wall above me, sheltering me from the wind, from the world. He is quiet power and strength and he speaks to the woman in me in ways no man ever has. “How are you doing?” he asks, studying me with probing, pale green eyes that always seem to see too much. “You okay?”
I brush my hand over his cheek, letting the soft rasp of his dark blond stubble stroke my fingers. “I will be when we get out of here.” I let my hand drop away. “What did the manager say about the paper clips?”
“He claims they’ve had problems with kids messing around the building. Vandals.”
I feel a stab of anger and indignation. “So that’s his explanation? Kids did this?”
“He’s protecting his ass, Sara.” He slides his hand down my waist and around my backside, caressing me intimately. “And I plan to protect yours.” He brushes hair from my eyes. “You’re staying at my place until the private investigator tells us there’s nothing to worry about. That way no one but me can get to you.” His voice lowers, turns rough. “You’ll be all mine.”
The possessive way his body cradles mine, the way he says the words, sends a tingling sensation spiraling through my body.
I refuse to think of the consequences of giving myself to Chris, a man I know will consume me, perhaps destroy me, but right now he feels as if he is saving me. I am willingly all his.